Sunday, February 25, 2024

Upset Saudis hint at building ties with other powers

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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia seems to have few viable options for pursuing a more independent and forthright foreign policy, despite its deep unease about the West’s tentative rapprochement with Iran.
Upset with the United States, senior Saudis have hinted at a range of possibilities, from building strategic relations with other world powers to pushing a tougher line against Iranian allies in the Arab world and, if world powers fail to foil Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, even seeking its own atomic bomb.
But alternative powers are hard even to contemplate for a nation that has been a staunch US ally for decades. Russia is on the opposite side to Riyadh over the Syrian war and China’s military clout remains modest compared with the United States’.
Robert Jordan, US ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03, said there would be limits to any Saudi alliances with other powers.
“There is no country in the world more capable of providing the protection of their oil fields, and their economy, than the US, and the Saudis are aware of that. We’re not going to see them jump out of that orbit,” he told Reuters.
While Jordan was a senior diplomat in the administration of President George W Bush, some Saudi analysts also say the kingdom is well aware of what major foreign policy shifts would involve – particularly any pursuit of nuclear weapons.
This could end up casting Saudi Arabia as the international villain, rather than its regional arch-rival Iran, and Riyadh has no appetite for the kind of isolation that has forced Tehran to the negotiating table. “Saudi Arabia doesn’t need to become a second Iran,” said a Saudi analyst close to official thinking. “It would be a total reversal of our traditional behaviour, of being a reliable member of the international community that promotes strategic stability and stabilises oil markets.”
Diplomatic sources and analysts in the Gulf say the kingdom, while unsettled, will not risk a breach in relations with its main non-Arab ally and will explore, however warily, a purely diplomatic response to the Iranian opening.
Top Saudis are nevertheless furious with Washington. Senior US officials held secret bilateral talks with Iranian counterparts for months to prepare for last month’s interim nuclear agreement between six world powers and Tehran, raising Gulf Arab rulers’ fears that Washington is willing to go behind their backs to do a deal with Iran. (Reuters)

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